Lance T. Izumi - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research
Izumi is Director of Education Studies for the Pacific
Research Institute and
Senior Fellow in California Studies. He is a leading expert in
education policy and the author of several major PRI studies.
[go to Izumi index]
Who needs math to compete in a global economy? Not progressive
[Lance T. Izumi] 3/23/04
over American jobs going overseas has so far largely overlooked
the key factor of poor-quality American
education. American companies, faced with a domestic labor
pool deficient in even basic knowledge and skills, are financing
the math and science education of students in foreign countries.
Yet, despite the implications of this trend, California has
reduced the difficulty of math requirements for students.
In communist China, computer software colleges are being built
at 35 universities around the country. At Peking University's
School of Software, which opened in 2002, Chinese students take
advantage of state-of-the-art labs funded by IBM, Sun Microsystems,
Motorola, Oracle, and other American high-tech giants. So far,
the American firms have donated $2 million in grants, donations,
and equipment to the school. U.S. companies want well-educated
foreign students to staff their overseas operations and the new
software colleges in China base their curriculum on the needs
of American industry.
Within three years, the software college at Peking University
will have 3,800 students specializing in subjects such as integrated-circuit
design and information security. Much of the instruction will
be in English.
In China, 58 percent
of the degrees awarded in 2002 were in the physical sciences
and engineering, compared to just 17 percent
in the U.S. China awarded 220,000 engineering bachelor's degrees
versus 60,000 awarded by U.S. universities. The San Jose Mercury
News reports that "With the benefits of massive foreign
investment and training, a booming economy and a national mandate,
China is poised to surge ahead - and perhaps to one day rival
American leadership in technology."
So how is California,
home of Silicon Valley, meeting this foreign challenge? The
latest trend has been for school districts to
plead with the state to waive the algebra requirement for high-school
seniors to graduate this year. Judy Pinegar, manager of waivers
at the state Department of Education, says that the number of
districts asking the state for waivers "is increasing algebraically" and
that the Department is "getting tons of calls." State
lawmakers will likely introduce legislation to postpone the algebra
requirement for at least one year.
The state's retreat on algebra comes on top of its decision
to reduce the difficulty of the math portion of the high-school
exit exam, which students in the class of 2006 have to pass in
order to graduate. Students no longer have to calculate the lower
quartile, median, and maximum of a data set. Instead, the number
of questions asking students to calculate averages, a sixth-grade
After taking the exam,
Bharath Venkat, a 16-year-old Modesto high schooler, said that
the test "was middle school stuff." Venkat
sharply observed: "I thought it was going to be harder.
I thought it would be based on junior or senior year stuff. It
is the high-school exit exam." While the test is easier,
students still only need to get 55 percent of the math questions
right in order to pass.
economic race will be won in part by the quality of education
of countries' workforces. Too many of our educators
whine about diverse student populations and racially biased tests,
while our foreign competitors focus on high expectations and
merit. If our educators fail to see the bigger economic picture,
they are consigning our nation to a very scary future. CRO
2004 Pacific Research Institute